In this article, you’ll learn key space suit facts about the history and development of space suits that will give you a new appreciation for the innovation behind them.
From the very first spacewalk to the suits worn on the International Space Station today, space suits have come a long way.
Read on to uncover some of the most interesting space suit facts that will broaden your knowledge of human space exploration.
1. The First Spacesuit Was Created in 1934 by Russell Colley
The very first spacesuit designed for use outside of an airship or airplane was created in 1934 by American inventor Russell Colley. His pressurized suit was made of rubber and wool and allowed for increased mobility compared to earlier flight suits. While rudimentary compared to modern spacesuits, Colley’s design was an important early milestone in the development of specialized suits for extravehicular activities.
2. Spacesuits Allow Astronauts to Survive in the Vacuum of Space
One of the primary purposes of spacesuits is to provide the pressurization and oxygen necessary for humans to survive the extreme conditions of space. The vacuum of space is an incredibly hostile environment for the human body, with no air pressure and extreme temperatures. Spacesuits provide a self-contained atmosphere, regulating temperature and pressure to keep astronauts alive.
They allow for mobility and dexterity while also protecting from meteorites, radiation, and solar flares. Without the life support that spacesuits provide, astronauts could not exit the spacecraft to perform spacewalks essential for construction, maintenance, and scientific observation.
3. NASA’s Spacesuits Weigh Over 280 Pounds on Earth
Spacesuits used for spacewalks outside the International Space Station and Space Shuttle weigh a lot on Earth. NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuits tip the scales at around 280 pounds when unused. They need this heft to shield astronauts from space’s harsh conditions. Yet, in the weightlessness of orbit, astronauts find these suits much more manageable.
Astronauts undergo rigorous training on Earth to get ready for using the suits in microgravity. Though they are heavy here, NASA’s spacesuits have safely guarded astronauts in over 200 spacewalks since 1965. Engineers are always working on refining spacesuit designs to find the right mix of mobility, safety, and weight.
4. Spacesuits Have Over a Dozen Layers to Protect Astronauts
Space suit facts number 3 is that NASA’s spacesuits are complex systems with multiple layers designed for specific functions. The hard upper torso provides structure and contains the life support system. Under that is a cooling garment that circulates water to regulate body temperature. A pressure garment surrounds the astronaut’s body to provide stable internal pressure. A thermal micrometeoroid garment goes over that to protect against small debris impacts and temperature swings.
The outermost layers provide durability and mobility. Gloves have additional layers for insulation and protection. In total, a spacesuit has over a dozen specialized layers, materials, and components. Engineers balance factors like mobility, safety, visibility, and reliability in the suit’s design. The multiple layers work together to create a personalized spacecraft that allows astronauts to work comfortably and safely in the harsh void of space.
5. Helmets Contain Visors to Protect Astronauts’ Eyes
An astronaut’s helmet is a critical part of their spacesuit. The hardened helmet provides protection from small meteorites and debris. Its rounded shape helps deflect radiation. The helmet contains a visor, usually made from polycarbonate or acrylic. This clear visor allows the astronaut to see outside. It has multiple layers to prevent scratches. The visor can flip up or down as needed.
There are often sun visors along the sides of the helmet as well. These tinted visors help block sunlight and glare. The helmet also includes communications equipment. Microphones and earphones let the astronaut talk to crewmates and mission control. Some helmets even have cameras mounted on them. Proper helmet design is vital for astronaut safety and communication during spacewalks.
6. Oxygen Tanks Provide Breathable Air to Astronauts
Spacesuits need a supply of oxygen to keep astronauts alive during spacewalks. This oxygen is stored in tanks connected to the suit. The tanks are often made of aluminum or composite materials. They can hold oxygen as a compressed gas or a cryogenic liquid. Liquid oxygen is very cold – around -300°F! The oxygen slowly warms and converts to gas for the astronaut to breathe.
These tanks only hold a limited amount of oxygen. Spacewalks need to be carefully planned to conserve oxygen usage. Advanced suits may recycle some exhaled oxygen back into the system. CO2 scrubbers remove carbon dioxide from the air. Oxygen tanks are essential for any spacewalk outside the spacecraft. They are a spacesuit’s lifeline, providing the breathable air astronauts need to work in the vacuum of space.
7. Spacesuits Circulate Water to Regulate Body Temperature
Astronauts work hard during spacewalks, so they build up a lot of body heat. Another space suit facts is that spacesuits need to keep astronauts from overheating. Water circulating through tiny tubes in the suit absorbs heat and carries it away. The water tubes cover the whole suit, including the gloves and boots. The water connects to a small radiator outside the suit that dumps the heat into space.
Fans circulate the cooled water back through the suit. Astronauts also wear a liquid cooling garment, which has more water tubes woven into the fabric. The circulating water cools the astronaut’s skin directly. This system keeps astronauts comfortable even during grueling 6-8 hour spacewalks. Without it, they would quickly overheat inside their airtight suits. Proper temperature regulation is vital for spacesuit comfort and safety.
8. Astronauts Train Underwater to Simulate Microgravity
On Earth, astronauts experience the constant pull of gravity. But in space, they float freely in microgravity. To prepare, astronauts regularly practice spacewalk maneuvers underwater. Weightlessness underwater provides similar resistance-free movement as microgravity. This allows astronauts to get a feel for how their bodies move in space. Underwater training takes place in gigantic pools up to 40 feet deep.
Astronauts wear modified spacesuits weighted to be neutrally buoyant underwater. Then they go through motions like translating hand-over-hand or maneuvering large objects. They also rehearse emergency scenarios like dealing with suit leaks or helmet flooding. Underwater training builds the muscle memory needed to work safely during spacewalks. It’s a crucial part of astronaut preparation long before they ever launch into orbit.
9. Spacesuits Contain Communications Systems and Cameras
Spacesuits allow astronauts to stay connected during spacewalks. Suits have built-in headphones and microphones for two-way radio communication. Speakers even let mission control talk directly into the helmet. High-definition helmet cams stream live video back to NASA. This lets ground teams monitor spacewalks in real time.
Some suit models also have headlamps for when astronauts work in the dark. For safety, suits have locator beacons. This allows easy tracking in case an astronaut becomes untethered. Some next-gen suits in development will feature Heads Up Displays (HUDs). The transparent display shows key data like oxygen levels right on the helmet visor. Advanced communications and cameras keep astronauts plugged in, promoting productivity and safety during extravehicular activities.
10. Astronauts Receive Spacesuits Custom-Fitted to Them
An astronaut doesn’t just pick any spacesuit from the rack for a spacewalk. The last space suit facts is that technicians make suits to match each individual’s unique body size and shape. Before launch, astronauts attend detailed sizing sessions and test various suit components. Suit experts measure over 20 body dimensions, including inseam length, torso, arm, hand, waist, and chest.
Technicians carefully tailor each suit to fit its owner’s measurements. They mold gloves directly to each astronaut’s hands for optimal dexterity. A snug suit ensures full movement and adaptability during spacewalks. The aim is to keep every astronaut comfortably working in space for extended periods.
Why Are Space Suits So Expensive?
Space suits are expensive because they require cutting-edge materials and technology to protect astronauts in the harsh environment of space. They need to regulate temperature, provide oxygen, withstand pressure changes, and protect from radiation, while also allowing mobility. Developing and manufacturing space suits is complex and costly.
How Much Is a Space Suit 2023?
A space suit in 2023 costs around $12 million per suit. The cost is driven by specialized materials, miniaturized life support systems, and precise construction required for safety. Newer suits like NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) for Artemis missions will likely cost over $20 million per suit.
How Much Is Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit?
Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 space suit is valued at several million dollars as an important historical artifact. In 2015, his lunar EVA suit was estimated to be worth around $2-4 million at auction. In 2022, Sotheby’s estimated his Apollo 11 spacesuit could sell for $6-8 million.
How Much Does the Axemu Spacesuit Cost?
NASA’s new AxEMU spacesuit for the Artemis program costs over $20 million per suit. The AxEMU provides more mobility and is customizable for each astronaut. The high price reflects cutting-edge materials and technology to enable extended missions on the moon.
Space suits are complex, highly engineered systems that allow astronauts to survive in the harsh environment of space. Prices range from millions to tens of millions of dollars, representing a significant investment because of the specialized materials, miniaturized life support systems, and precise construction needed for safety.
Suits must regulate temperature, provide oxygen, and withstand pressure changes and radiation while allowing mobility. As space missions advance, new suits like NASA’s AxEMU continue pushing the boundaries of spacesuit capabilities while coming at a high cost. When considering the lives they protect, however, many would argue space suits are priceless.